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Apple: 'Average' iPad toiler does a mere 46-hour week

Cupertino vows fresh probe into latest claims of labour rights' abuses

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Apple is under fire again after a new China Labor Watch report accused its factories of committing nearly 90 workers' rights violations.

This time iPhone and iPad fabs operated by Taiwanese manufacturing giant Pegatron are facing the allegations, rather than Foxconn. Apple today confirmed to The Reg that it will immediately investigate the report's findings.

Human rights group China Labor Watch sent undercover investigators into three Pegatron facilities – Pegatron Shanghai, its subsidiary Riteng also based in the city, and Suzhou-based subsidiary AVY – and conducted 200 interviews with employees outside the plants.

Its new report Apple’s Unkept Promises [PDF] alleges 86 labour rights violations including hiring discrimination, underage labour, insufficient wages, poor working and living conditions and environmental pollution.

It claims Pegatron breaks Apple’s Supplier Responsibility code of conduct, highlighting 17 “promises” it believes are not being kept.

For example, Apple insists 92 per cent of its supply chain complies with a 60-hour maximum working week rule. However China Labor Watch alleged the average in the three plants it investigated was at least 66 hours - and further claimed pregnant women were forced to work the same hours despite Chinese law limiting them to eight hours each day.

In response, Apple told El Reg in a statement (published in full here):

We have closely tracked working hours at all of these facilities. Our most recent survey in June found that Pegatron employees making Apple products worked 46 hours per week on average. Excessive overtime is not in anyone's best interest.

The China Labor Watch dossier also claims that despite Apple’s promise to have stamped out discriminatory hirings in its supply chain, Pegatron factories still have on display a list of criteria that includes a refusal to employ anyone under 4ft 11in, those older than 35, people with tattoos, or those of Hui, Tibetan or Uyghur heritage.

Staff turnover is pretty high, we're told: 30 in every 110 new recruits at AVY leave in a two-week period. The investigators' report further claimed:

Apple has zero tolerance for lapses in the quality of its products. If a quality issue arises, Apple will do everything it can to have it corrected immediately. But a lower level of urgency apparently applies in responding to labour rights abuses. Despite its professed high standards for the treatment of Apple workers, serious labour violations have persisted year after year. Apple must prioritise its efforts into halting the abuse of the workers making Apple products.

Up until now most of the heat on Apple's supply chain has centred on the working conditions at its Foxconn plants. That extensive bad publicity eventually led to a landmark deal between the fruity tech titan, the Taiwanese super-manufacturer and the global non-profit Fair Labor Association (FLA) to improve standards in a specific group of factories.

Although abuses are still being reported, progress appears to have been made at Foxconn: rights groups admit the electronics giant offers Chinese workers some of the best pay and conditions among technology manufacturers.

However, Pegatron has won large chunks of Apple’s business: Pegatron Shanghai is the second largest supply factory in China for Cupertino, and reportedly bagged the contract to build the new low-cost iPhone.

This isn't the first time Apple's Pegatron plants have come in for criticism either. An explosion at Riteng in December 2011 injured 61 workers and put 23 of them in hospital.

"The latest [China Labor Watch] report contains claims that are new to us and we will investigate them immediately. Our audit teams will return to Pegatron, RiTeng and AVY for special inspections this week," the Apple spokesman added to The Reg.

Meanwhile, Pegatron told Reuters it would "investigate the matter and would take immediate action to correct any violations of Chinese labour laws and its own code of conduct". The manufacturer's CEO Jason Cheng said: "We take these allegations very seriously." ®

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